Growing a Little Fruit Tree

My gardening life changed the moment I stumbled across a book called “Grow a Little Fruit Tree” by Ann Ralph.  I have a large yard, but it’s still a city yard. I have no room for fruit trees…or so I thought, until I read this book. Now I have 22 fruit trees – and I’ll be adding a few more next year. And this does not include bushes,  like blueberries or gooseberries! (I have many more of those.)

A few of the trees are traditional espalier trees, that I grew from one year-old “whips” (basically a skinny little stick on roots). One of my espalier pears is blooming this year for the first time.

It’s four years old, and I’m hoping for fruit, even though its pollination pear is not blooming this year (it’s a year younger). Maybe a neighbor has a pear I don’t know about? I can hope, right?

My four year old espalier apple is also blooming.

Apple blossoms are so pretty.

I like the art of espalier, even though I’ll probably get more fruit from the “little tree” method. Supposedly, about 100 apples per tree. Given that I currently have seven apple trees, that is a very nice number!

I also have a couple of columnar apples, which are really taking off, and looking quite gorgeous.

I could be pruning them into more of an exacting columnar shape, but I rather like the extra branches.

All of the “little trees” were planted last year, and although I chopped their little trunks off even with my knee immediately after planting them, they have grown immensely.

I have two peaches, both planted together only about a foot apart. This distance helps keep them small, and of course is great for pollination.  Both peaches bloomed this year, so I’m hoping for a few actual peaches!

One of the trees was covered in the brightest pink blossoms possible. I can’t believe I didn’t get a picture of the entire tree in bloom, but here’s a close up the flowers.

I have four plums, and am planning to add a couple more next year.

Two of them produced a handful of flowers, so probably next year I’ll see fruit.

Last year, I planted two sweet cherries.

And this year, two sour cherries. These are hard to see, because they haven’t leafed out yet, and are just sticks in the ground, cut off at knee level.

Can you see them? Look for the blue and yellow tags!

The cutest little tree I have is my Dolgo crabapple.  (Ignore the cardboard, we’re expanding our Back to Eden garden, and are anxiously awaiting a load of wood chips to cover said cardboard!)

Planted last year, it astonished me by producing exactly one little apple. This year, it’s blooming quite well, and I expect to get several more. See how perfectly adorable it is? And see how many branches it’s grown in one year?

I love this method. Basically, I will always keep these trees small enough to reach all the branches while standing with both feet on the ground. No ladders, no picking hooks. I could not recommend Ann Ralph’s book any higher!

Advertisements

New Chicks!

Life on this fallen earth being what it is, for every joyful event, there’s a sad one. Today, we brought home a box of baby chicks…last week one of our original old hens died. Antoinette, our Delaware, who lived up to her French name by loving to eat snails.

She was feisty, and bossy, and the first one into everything new. For the last three years or so, she’d been having trouble with a bit of lameness that I was never able to discover a cause for. It didn’t slow her down much…other than being unable to jump up onto her roost at night.  Her last day, she seemed fine, and it was a perfect day for a hen. She got to help me plant new trees in her yard – lots of tasty bugs and worms! – and later, she sunbathed with her sister. When it started to rain, I waited it out with her in the coop, so she had a lovely long snuggle…one of her favorite things in the world.

And then, in the morning, she was just…gone. Dead, I think, of a heart attack or stroke. She was quite an old girl. She’ll be missed.

But chicks! There is nothing like the happiness of bringing home a box full of babies!

There are ten Naked Neck chicks in there, and one Golden Sexlink. The Sexlink (name still to be chosen) will be joining the flock as a new egglayer. I’ve never had a Sexlink before, preferring the heritage breeds, but I’ve heard they are terrific winter layers – something my heritage breeds are not. This is a test. If she does well, I might keep a couple Sexlinks permanently in the flock.

The Naked Necks are for meat. If I like this breed, I might try keeping a rooster and a few hens so I can produce my own chicks of this breed every year.

The new chicks are being foster-mothered by my grey Cochin, Ophelia.

She was kind enough to go broody for the first time nearly EXACTLY two weeks before the store was stocking Naked Necks.  We just put the babies underneath her, and she took to them instantly. I think she’s going to be a great mother – fingers crossed! It’s good she’s so big and soft and fluffy, since she has eleven babies to care for. The most we’ve ever given a broody before was four. It’s going to be so cute, when she starts taking them out and teaching them how to be chickens!

Mostly Birds, Wild and Tame.

Mom made the fabulous discovery that our local food co-op no longer demands that you sign up to get vegetable scraps from them. Now, they just put whatever they have out in bags, and it’s first-come, first-serve. So far, we’ve gotten three bags. They went through the first bag in a shot, but still have a ways to go on the recent bags!

They even had a bunch of apples and nectarines in there!

Soon, hopefully, there will be lots of veggies to eat in their own run. Last year – and this Spring – I’ve made a point of planting all kinds of fruit bearing trees and bushes in their yard. Today, I put out several wood frames that I will staple wire over, then plant underneath. They’ll be able to eat the wheat grass, clover, kale, etc that I plant, but not get to the roots to dig them up.

They are happy, spoiled chickens. Someone needs to tell them that, so they stop whining at me!

The most exciting news in the chicken world, though, is this:

My frizzle cochin Ophelia has gone broody! This is exactly what I wanted when I chose this breed: a hen that would raise chicks for me early in the year. I have two other girls that are hit-or-miss broodies, but they always go broody late, when all the chicks I want are already gone from the stores.

This year, I’m getting 8-10 Naked Necks to raise for meat, and I really, really, wanted a broody to do all the work for me. Broodies are amazing. And Ophelia is timing it perfectly – almost two weeks to the DAY after she took to her nest and became a hissing, growling fluff of hormones, is the one day when the store is going to stock Naked Neck chicks.

Speaking of hormones, puberty finally struck my sweet little Bobwhite quail, and literally, in one single day, they went from all snuggling together to chasing each other around and trying to commit murder. I’m not even exaggerating on the murder thing – I’ve found quail pecked to death overnight with previous groups. I don’t want it to happen again. So I since I have one pair of snowflake bobwhite quail, I separated those out first into the empty “Display Coop”.

That solved the issue for about an hour. Then one white male started bullying all the others. I separated him out. Peace for almost a day. Then a second male started in with the bullying, so I took him out. I say ‘bullying’ but it was absolute terrorizing! The other quail, which mostly prefer to stay on the ground, were flying up to the very top of the cage and cowering behind the parakeet nest boxes, afraid to move.  It was so sad to see that it made it alot easier on me to butcher the troublemakers. The final two whites (which I suspect are both girls) are finally at peace. They are so happy. They get to stay, although I plan to move them into one of the small coops later this summer, and hatch out some California Valley Quail – you know, the ones with the topknots? I’ve always wanted some of those.

Every batch of quail I hatch all have a single theme for their names – it makes it easier to remember which clutch they came from. The bobwhites are Harry Potter themed. The Snowflake pair are “Buckbeak” and “Bellatrix”. One of the whites is “Luna”. But I’m stuck on a good girl name for the other white.  And suggestions?

The wild birds are checking out my nest boxes (I need to get lots more of those built before next year), the bumblebee queens are out looking for homes, and look! Someone very special moved into my honeysuckle tree! I haven’t caught sight of the resident yet, but I think it’s a positive sign.

This is going to be a very good year.

All Bugs Welcome Here

Started the foundation for the meat rabbit colony coop. This is the part I hate: leveling, putting down wire…all the boring, tedious bits. Before I can finish it, though, and move on to the fun building, I need that one stumpy limb of the old apple tree removed. Thankfully, my uncle has a chainsaw, and is willing to come help me out! He’s coming Weds, so hopefully the weekend will be nice, and I can get some work done here.

While I’m waiting on this, I started designing my “Insect Hotel”.

It’s behind the big roof garden quail coop, so it’s out of the way…yet will be attractive enough to be a cool surprise when you walk around the corner! I’m going to plant a few things in the pots, and around the base of them, and keep building the cinder block and wood platform up higher. Each level will have different things on it: blocks of wood with holes drilled through for mason bees, bundles of straw and reeds, pinecones…basically all the things that bugs like to overwinter in. Beside it, is the rhubard, just starting to show leaves, so that will be quite pretty, I think.

The bottom layer is for any frogs or toads that would care to move in. I’ve put some overturned flower pots underneath, and barricaded it off from the squirrels. There is also a tiny little dish of water – although hopefully later this year I’ll have time to install the larger wildlife pond I have planned. It’s a few feet away, on the other side of the compost.

And look! I found this broken mason block, and was about to throw it away, when I realized it makes a perfect frog house!

Last of all – look at this cool addition to the garden: a little olive tree!

I did not know that any type of olive would ripen in the Pacific NW where I live, but then I discovered this one! It’s called ‘Arbequina’ and is self-fertile. It says it often started bearing the year after planting, which is very exciting. I hope it thrives.

Spring is almost here.

The sorrel is up, and boy do I love this stuff! It’s the earliest edible green for me, and it just sprouts up all on its own. It has a lovely lemon bite to it!

After a long winter hiatus, the chickens have begun to lay eggs again. They have been solely missed. Ophelia the frizzle cochin laid her first egg a few days ago. I knew it was coming, because she had started “crouching” whenever I walked near her. It’s a sure sign when you see that; she’ll be laying in about a week! Ophelia’s eggs are a pretty brown, almost a pink. They are currently spotted with white, but that will stop once she uses up some of the extra calcium she has inside her right now.

I went out to feed the bobwhite quail the other day, and noticed something cute: they are getting on super well with the parakeets. When I threw seed on the ground, the green parakeet came right down with them – she was so unafraid that she actually was walking underneath the quail! Sadly, though I did get a video, I didn’t manage to capture any of the walking underneath action. But it’s still cute.

In other bird news, I purchased a ‘Lovey Dovey’ dove nest from Amazon, and hung it with a little grass stuffed inside. I’m hoping I’ll get a pair of mourning doves to nest.

The weather has been fairly decent the last few days, and I’ve got a lot of cleaning up in the garden accomplished. The summer kitchen area is ready to build in, and I’ve finished the raised beds in front and planted a few plants around. The summer kitchen will be roofed, and I’ll catch rainwater off it, to water the raised beds.

The area where the old duck coop used to be will now become an edible food forest. In the picture below, the first section of rough boards is where I plan to build a raised hot bed for winter growing. In behind, the two boards mark off the site of the future serama chicken coop.

I’ve got a bunch of trees and shrubs coming; the first batch is being delivered Monday. I’m so excited!

I’m so impatient for spring. Every time I go outside, I see more signs of life.

The violets are up.

The moss is growing.

And the roses are alive.

It’s still hard to believe that in about a month, everything will be green and I’ll have baby chicks out in the coop!

Raising My Own Meat

I can’t do it, guys.

And what I mean is, I can’t bear to continue buying contaminated, unhealthy meat from horrifically inhumanely raised and slaughtered animals. And going vegetarian is not an option for me – I believe, absolutely, that a strict vegetarian/vegan diet is not the most healthy option.  And I’m not ashamed to admit that I love the taste of meat.  I used to think I could never slaughter animals myself, but it turns out that most of that fear was a fear of not doing it right, of screwing it up and causing the animals distress or pain. But with every animal I’ve killed, I’ve gotten more and more confident. I truly believe that the last two roosters I killed knew absolutely nothing was happening: one moment they were alive, the next moment, they were dead.

I would love to be in a place where I could raise larger animals like cows and pigs, but until that happens, I’m stuck in the city where “hooved animals” are not allowed. (Strangely enough, all other animals are fine…as long as they aren’t too noisy or stinky. Perhaps I should get ostriches??? 😉 ) These regulations mean I can have chickens, and I can have rabbits. This year, I’m getting 8 – 10 Naked Neck chicks to raise up.

768px-naked_neck_chicken_close-up

They are a heritage breed, bred for flavor rather than unnaturally fast growth. These birds won’t keel over of heart attacks at a few weeks old, or shatter their legs when they try to walk, as the industry Cornish Cross breed does.  If it goes well, I’m think of adding a small breeding trio of Naked Neck adults to my urban farm, so I’m not dependant on (or patronizing) the commercial hatcheries. I’m not technically allowed to have a rooster – but only because roosters crow. If I try keeping a rooster, I’d have to use one of the No Crow Collars. They have mixed reviews, but after reading tons of them, one of the major difficulties seems to be getting them tight enough without choking the bird. And the reason why they can’t get them tight enough, seems to be the problem of shifting neck feathers. Naked Necks don’t have neck feathers. Possibly problem solved? I think it’s worth a try. I can’t find anyone who has written about using a collar on a Naked Neck. Do you know of anyone?

They certainly cut out the noise, while still allowing the rooster all other normal sounds and activities.

And rabbits, of course, are going to be my other meat animals. Not my mom’s pet rabbits, that I’ve been writing about recently. These will be a breed that is almost exclusively used for meat production: the New Zealand.

figure-6

The adults are not especially cute. They will, however, have an excellent life with me, as I will not raise anything in tiny little wire cages. These rabbits will have a large space to run and play in, and lots of fresh food.

Although killing animals is not easy (and should not ever be), it is entirely natural and far more moral than supporting the cruel practice of factory farming.  It’s incredibly recently that all of us have lost the skill. It’s actually shocking to realize that having a flock of chickens, rabbits, or even a cow in the backyard was absolutely normal within living history.

The summer kitchen area (which will also be my meat processing area) is finally cleaned out and ready to build on.  (Well – ready except for digging out a few stray t-posts.) As you saw in the last post, I left a horrific mess of rotten fence boards and other junk laying about until I had time to finish it. While I was at my day job, mom came out and cleared almost all of it away for me! It was an awesome surprise, letting me jump directly to the more fun bits of re-attaching the bamboo privacy fence. It’s starting to look nice now.

And the old potting bench fits! It just needs a new counter. And where the potting bench used to be, is now prime seating area. It’s really warm and sunny in winter (Ellie the chicken and I sunbathed together there just yesterday) and in summer, it’s cool and shady.

I’m going to build an awesome arbor here, with fluffy cushions, and fairy lights. Stay tuned.

Rabbits and New Summer Kitchen Prepwork

The rabbits are moved into their new hutch/run, and they are so happy. Happy, happy rabbits.

Daisy and Dandelion.

I filmed a brief video hoping to catch them romping, but of course they didn’t romp on cue. I’m told that a few minutes after I left, they were tearing around in circles, chasing each other.

 

 

They have piles of raspberry, blackberry, and apple prunings to eat.

And a tub of dirt to dig in, if they wish. And hopefully, if they wish, they will contain their digging to this tub.

 

So far, they haven’t dug at all. The tub is just to sit and look cute in.

They are excellent at looking cute.

The summer kitchen progress is moving right alone…but so far, it’s all prep work. There is a lot of prep work. I dug out all the gravel from the former duck yard, and half of it went as a foundation to the meat rabbit pen, and half went to the summer kitchen. Gravel drains well, and is nice underfoot. The part you see in the back, is where the summer kitchen will be.

To the left, the bamboo screen needed to come down and be replaced. It was meant to cover a decrepid rotting fence – but the neighbor has since built a new one, but rather than removing the old one, he just moved his new one inside his property line. So I took down the bamboo, and tore out the old fence myself. It made a mess.

It made a BIG mess. Old rotten wood and rubbish everywhere.

Now that the fence is down, though, I gained about half a foot of space, and some firewood, since we’ll cut up the old fence boards to burn. I’m also putting the bamboo back up again, since the neighbor’s new fence is too low and too gap-y for my taste. I don’t feel private or content on my property if I have to see the neighbor’s yard all the time.

Also, I had a brainstorm. One thing our garden is lacking are quality shaded places to sit. See this potting bench? In summer, the honeysuckle tree shades it, and it’s the coolest part of the yard. And I never use it to pot anything; it’s purely decorative.

 

Decorative when it’s not full of winter mess and junk, that is. But I’m going to take it out, and put in a lovely arbor there. And the potting bench, if it will fit, will become part of the summer kitchen counter. All it needs is a new top; the base is still really solid.

Inside the house, mom’s been doing a lot of crocheting. Dexter and Bundy help.